Monday, 29 April 2013

Is Cameron watering down his EU renegotiation pledge?

by Marc Glendening  

Before his hurried return to London following the death of Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron undertook a much-publicised tour of other European countries to promote his campaign to see the EU 'reformed'.

Leaving aside the question of how realistic it is to actually bring about a fundamental change in the terms of our membership of the EU, there is an interesting change in tone coming from the prime minister.

In his long-awaited speech on Europe back in January, the prime minister committed himself to try to renegotiate with the EU the balance of law-making powers between Brussels and Westminster.

The implication was that, should Mr Cameron win the next general election (clearly a big 'if'), he would seek to persuade the other 26 political heads of state to sign a new treaty by 2017 returning a range of significant competences to Britain.

Ed Miliband, in his response, attacked the idea that this was desirable or possible and instead said that Labour would seek a vaguely-defined 'reform' of the EU which would not require treaty change.

In his recent truncated tour, Mr Cameron too spoke of 'reform' and talked in terms of trying to get all member countries to agree to certain, again unspecified, changes. So does this mean that he has given up on the idea of a special deal for Britain?

If so, it is a recognition, though not an honestly conceded one, that a thorough-going renegotiation is indeed impossible. This follows the boycott by the French, German and other EU governments of the 'balance of competences' review that William Hague invited them to participate in. This was conclusive proof, were it needed, that Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande have no intention of allowing the UK to re-write the current EU treaty.

It is not clear where all this leaves Mr Cameron's apparent promise to hold an in-out referendum in 2017. The government has refused to answer what it refers to as hypothetical questions about what would happen if it failed to bring about a successful renegotiation within two years of being re-elected. Would it still honour the referendum pledge?

When the 'balances of competences review', being overseen by Europe minister David Lidington, is completed David Cameron will come under pressure to list specific measures that he will want to see implemented by the EU, whether as a consequence of a renegotiation or collectively agreed reform resulting in a generalised decentralisation.

The Conservatives will then need to define what is the bottom line for them; what would qualify as a success and a failure. At present David Cameron is saying that he wants Britain to remain in the EU, but at any price? Even if he does not succeed in getting back any major powers whatsoever? 

written by Marc Glendening - Campaign director, Democracy Movement

For the latest campaign news and EU developments, follow us on Twitter: @DemocracyMovemt

Thursday, 4 April 2013

No more euro flim-flam

By Marc Glendening 

Sometimes there is a time for cutting through the mushy triangulated BS of modern mainstream politics.

Europe is the question that now brooks no unambiguous answer. 

Yet the political elite, supported by the many fellow travellers who follow in its slipstream, want, for their different reasons, to keep a dense fog hanging over this issue.

I don't think Malcolm X was specifically speaking about the EU when he said, "there will be no controlled show... no flim-flam... if you're afraid to tell the truth you don't deserve freedom," as captured in No Sell Out, Keith Leblanc’s 1983 hip hop tribute.

However, those of us who want a real debate about the EU, regardless of our different preferred outcomes, should now seek to apply Mr X's commendable clarity of approach to this issue. 

This is why my organisation, the all-party Democracy Movement, is launching a new campaign, Fast Forward: beyond the outdated EU. We want to take head-on the commission/big business, financed pro-EU lobby and force them into an honest war of ideas on what exactly would be the implications of Britain leaving and staying in. 

We know that the in-out referendum David Cameron has apparently promised us will truly be a no flim-flam moment. There will be no post-modern, third way option on the ballot paper. Political rationality, courtesy of the European enlightenment, will reassert itself. To quote Malcolm X again: "You're either this or that."

Bogus debate

The current debate within the political mainstream is horribly bogus. The Tory eurosceptics, with a few honourable exceptions, are playing along with the fantasy the prime minister has been trying to sell to us.

Namely, that should the Conservatives win in 2015, it will be possible to negotiate a new treaty with Brussels and that within two years this will result in a torrent of powers being returned to Westminster.

The grandees of the pro-EU elite, as exemplified by Peter Mandelson, Ken Clarke and that other great political Malcolm - I speak, of course, of Rifkind - are selling us another fairy story. This is that there will be no fundamental further implications for Britain if we remain inside the EU. This is the soft line the Centre for British Influence in Europe is peddling.

Compare and contrast the degree of political clarity expressed by the two Malcolms: The benighted Scottish version declared his admiration for Cameron's Europe speech not only because he committed himself to continued EU membership, but also because the PM did "not reveal any significant details as to how radical, or otherwise, his negotiating objectives will be", according to Rifkind's January piece.

Presumably Malcolm R doesn't want us to even know before we vote in 2015, what exactly the Tories will be trying to get back from Brussels should they win? And people wonder why there is a political disconnect between the elite and the people.

Reality of 'in'

The stark reality is that if we vote in the referendum to stay in, we will be signifying our acceptance of EU rule once and for all. Brussels already makes approximately half our laws, according to research paper 10/62 (pdf) from October 2010 published by the House of Commons Library.

Next year negotiations will commence on a new treaty designed to save the euro by transferring a raft of new economic powers to the centre. The eurozone members will then vote as a single, majority bloc within the council of ministers, a body in which Britain has only 8.4% of the votes.

The idea that this will have no repercussions for the non-euro countries is bizarre, as John Stevens, the principled pro-EU campaigner and chair of the new UK European People's party, has argued.

How long will Brussels, Stevens asked at a recent People's Pledge debate, allow us to competitively devalue against the eurozone economies?

At some point, if we are to remain inside, Britain will be made to put up or shut up about joining the euro. The euro, not the single market, will become the defining feature of the new EU, stated Stevens, and this is what all members will be required to join.

Post-EU future

The Democracy Movement in its new campaign will seek to challenge the British people to confront not only the political reality of remaining within the EU, but to project ahead and contemplate what being shackled to Brussels will mean for us economically.

Our assertion is that there is a decisive, unstoppable shift in power taking place away from Europe to the Commonwealth and other fast-growing parts of the world. 

Britain because of its language, history and geographical position, together with the communications revolution, needs to look forward to a post-EU future.

The single market is of declining significance to us, accounting for only 9% of our GDP, a figure that will fall as we export a growing percentage of goods and services to the non-EU world. 

Our message is we must stop being little Europeans, as much as we should avoid being little Englanders.

It is said that education minister Michael Gove has a poster of Malcolm X in his office bearing the legend: "By any means necessary." This should not come as any surprise to us. Here is the one government minister to have said that, in a future referendum, he would vote to leave the EU. 

He understands that the time for euro flim-flam is well and truly over. Let the real debate begin. 

written by Marc Glendening - Campaign director, Democracy Movement

This article was first published on For the latest campaign news and EU developments, follow us on Twitter: @DemocracyMovemt